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Prisons, schools win big in budget

January 19, 2007|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS - In Gov. Martin O'Malley's fiscal 2008 budget, the state's second-largest capital project is in Washington County: a new Maryland Correctional Training Center housing unit, at a cost of $32.6 million.

The budget also sets aside $9.8 million for other MCTC upgrades and $6.7 million for two public-school projects.

In addition, the governor has proposed 155 new correctional officer positions, separate from current vacancies, at a cost of $6.7 million. The positions are not earmarked for any particular state prison.

Correctional officers and union officials have said that Washington County, which has three state prisons south of Hagerstown, is dangerously short-staffed.

"If we got a good number of new positions, certainly some would end up in Hagerstown," said Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which includes the Division of Correction.

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As part of a record-breaking $400 million for school construction, O'Malley has allocated $4.7 million for a new Pangborn Elementary School in Hagerstown and $2 million toward a new Westfields Elementary School south of Hagerstown.

When new state legislators stopped at MCTC on a tour last month, a state public safety official said the new housing unit would hold as many as 384 inmates, two to a cell.

About 400 MCTC inmates, or close to 15 percent, live in Quonset huts - prefabricated shelters not intended to be dormitories, new legislators heard during their tour.

The only allocation in O'Malley's proposed capital budget higher than the MCTC housing unit is $109.2 million for a new physical education complex at Coppin State University in Baltimore.

Even though O'Malley, a Democrat, was sworn in on Wednesday, state law required him to release a budget no later than today.

State legislators from Washington County - including two Republicans - praised the proposed budget, which still needs to go through the General Assembly.

"Gov. Ehrlich left the state in very good financial shape," Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said, "and Gov. O'Malley's budget is reflective of that."

Shank said O'Malley's budget shows fiscal restraint and supports the core priorities he promised, particularly school construction.

The trick, he said, will come in future years, when a large deficit is expected.

"We all know that the storm clouds are gathering," he said.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, who sits on the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, said it was important for those Washington County projects to get in the budget this year, with gloomy forecasts ahead.

"It sounds like a reasonably fair budget," Munson said.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said he expected O'Malley's commitment to school construction and other education funding.

"Obviously, we're just starting the process," he said. "It will take a lot of work over the next 80 days."

The attention in the budget to MCTC and staffing also was no surprise, Donoghue said.

"The governor and lieutenant governor are acutely aware of our situation, and they want to remedy the situation," he said.

Shank and Munson said their main disappointment was that a new Maryland State Police barracks wasn't in the budget.

Money for a new barracks, replacing the current one on the edge of Hagerstown, has been cut from recent budgets, Munson said.




What does budget mean to county?



Washington County projects receiving at least $1 million in Gov. Martin O'Malley's 2008 capital budget, which he released Thursday:

· $32.6 million for a 192-cell, medium-security housing unit and support space at Maryland Correctional Training Center

· $9.8 million for site utilities, housing unit windows and heating systems at MCTC

· $4.7 million for Pangborn Elementary School

· $3.1 million for enhanced nutrient removal for Hagerstown wastewater treatment plant

· $2 million for Westfields Elementary School

· $2 million for Program Open Space grants

· $1.4 million for a police central booking facility

· $1.3 million for a Boonsboro wastewater treatment plant upgrade




O'Malley budget highlights



The budget is just more than $30 billion, up 2.5 percent from the current budget of $29.3 billion. It calls for no new taxes, but it saps $967 million out of the state's rainy day fund.

· SCHOOL FINANCE: Includes $400 million for school construction and $680 million to pay for an education reform approved in 2002.

However, it does not include about $96 million for an optional part of that school reform, to give money to school districts where children are considered more expensive to teach.

· HIGHER EDUCATION: Almost $192 million more for higher education, allowing the University System to avoid tuition hikes next year.

· SCIENCE: Money for stem cell research goes to $25 million, up from $10 million this year.

· PUBLIC SAFETY: Corrections would get $6.7 million to hire 155 additional prison guards. State Police would more than $500,000 to speed DNA testing.

· AGRICULTURE: Money for winter cover crops would increase 7 percent, to $8.8 million.

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